We Can Sleep When We’re Dead (But should we wait?)


I think about death a lot.

Perhaps more than I should. Certainly more than anyone else my age.

It’s not that I’m masochistic. I’m just realistic. I understand that death is unavoidable, always possible, always lurking in the shadows, even for someone my age.

Again, it’s not that I’m twisted—not at all—I’m just a young man who has lived, loved, and lost. I’ve lost friends to suicide and war. I’ve lost loved ones to old age and disease. My own wife and mother, as I’ve mentioned in earlier columns, have been weathered by chronic, painful and deadly diagnoses. Even I have already had one too many close calls for comfort. Three to be exact.

But I’ll spare you the details, because they’re unimportant. What is important is the time we have on this earth and doing something important and necessary and ultimately life giving. I think all Millennials are after that, in some way, shape or form. And in order to do that, we must be willing to rest. I realize that statement is counter-intuitive. This might be the hardest lesson I’ve learned as a caregiver, because when you’re made aware that life is fragile, that it doesn’t come with a gift receipt, there is an urgency to life that makes it hard to just stop and breathe.

Last week at We Are Caregivers, Ben Pratt wrote about the need for everyone to listen to their body—not just their mind—and take rest. Good and useful advice for anyone, of course, but it falls on deaf ears with Millennials.


Because most folks my age have not had to come to terms with their own mortality. Most folks my age still have gas in their tank. They’re young, they’re fresh, and they’re not sleeping.

We have a Super-person complex. We naively believe that we live with the same prescribed amount of years that spans several decades, and as a result we push the limits, we cross the line, and we do everything but take care of ourselves. Eventually, however, we wear down and come to a crashing halt. Take it from me—I pushed the limit, didn’t listen to my body and ended up falling asleep at the wheel only to awake while my car flipped end over end in a field.

We need rest.You_can_sleep_when_you're_dead!

Unfortunately, among young professionals trying to establish themselves in their careers, build families, and maintain social lives—sleep and rest become distant priorities. Not even priorities. More like an inconvenient necessity. I’ve even seen people hang posters that read: “You can sleep when you’re dead.” And then, of course, there’s Bon Jovi’s famous song “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”

Not me. I’m in bed by 8:30.

Take it from someone who has literally crashed and burned. It’s not worth it. You need to rest. We all need to rest.

And if you don’t want to listen to me, listen to what scientists say about the latest in sleep research.

Imagine how much more efficient we could be if we were all fully rested. Imagine how much more kind we would be toward our fellow brothers and sisters. Would we treat each other with more respect? Would we show each other a little more grace? It’s a grandeur idea to say that we’ll sleep when we’re dead, but it’s not realistic.

And caregivers have to be realistic. We don’t have a choice.

So take heart and take rest. Whether you’re a young caregiver, or just a young person trying to get your bearings in this world, remember, we are all only human. No matter our age, no matter our circumstances, we all need rest.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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  1. Benjamin Pratt says

    This is excellent and hard to learn wisdom. Our work ’til you drop culture pushes back against this advice. You learned it the hard way and fortunately did not kill yourself along the way. Thank you for the good follow up to my comments about listening to our bodies.